(MCT) — Naperville is stepping up police and firefighter presence in its downtown in the wake of recent late-night violence, and city officials have not ruled out shortening hours for some bars.
However, some councilmen are taking issue with the Fire Department's role in the new enforcement approach, saying they are concerned about the potential for firefighters being injured performing duties outside their job description.
Police Chief Bob Marshall told the City Council Tuesday that he has seen "a trend of relatively serious crimes" in the past few months since officers who were helping patrol the downtown over the summer returned to their regular duties in area schools. Recent incidents have included two fights and an armed robbery. In February, a 24-year-old Naperville teacher was stabbed to death at a downtown bar.
Marshall, who became chief in May, said he is taking a more proactive approach to weekend patrols by adding police officers to the beat as well as both uniformed and plainclothes investigators.
"We believe police presence is an effective way to decrease criminal activity, especially in the downtown," he said.
The Naperville Fire Department also has started sending firefighters to check bars for compliance with capacity limits between midnight and 2 a.m. on weekends. But several councilmen expressed concerns about liability issues with that.
"Their job is not ... to break up fights, and my concern is that's what it's being used for," Councilman Doug Krause said.
Councilman Grant Wehrli agreed.
"If they're there solely to provide for a uniformed presence, I balk at that because that's not what they're qualified to do, that's not what they're trained to do," he said.
Marshall said firefighters are only doing occupancy checks and are accompanied by a police officer. Councilman Steve Chirico called the move "a great use of resources."
Councilman Bob Fieseler said he does not believe most Naperville residents are partaking in the late-night activity they are paying police to monitor, and the city might want to consider closing bars an hour earlier, which would mean midnight on weeknights and 1 a.m. on weekends.
"As I've said before, nothing good happens after midnight," he said.
Councilman Joe McElroy called shortening hours "the nuclear option" but agreed that the city eventually might have to look at doing so as a last resort. He also would like to see more activities like theater and live music offered downtown as an alternative to getting drunk.
Instead of making all bars close early, Wehrli suggested the liquor commission shorten hours specifically for bars not following city ordinances.
In particular, over-serving patrons is a violation that Councilman Paul Hinterlong would like to see curtailed. But Marshall said the drinking isn't just occurring at the bars. He has seen a trend of people drinking and even getting high in their vehicles in or near downtown just before heading into the bars. He is asking his officers to keep an eye out for people doing so.
Marshall also would like to install more security cameras downtown in addition to the five already operating. Another part of his plan includes a possible partnership with the Illinois secretary of state's office to crack down on the use of fraudulent IDs.
Police will continue to monitor downtown crime to see whether the new enforcement techniques are effective.